Communicating the value of soil resources using digital platforms

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Soils and Land Use (Bangor)


Soils sustain life through fulfilling vital functions that support and sustain our terrestrial ecosystems, grow our food, feed, fiber and wood; regulate the atmosphere; filter water; recycle waste; preserve our heritage; act as an aesthetic and cultural resource, and provide a vital gene pool and biological resource from which health resources such as antibiotics have been extracted. There is no major international policy directive on soil, and there is increasing recognition that soils and the functions they fulfill are under threat from over exploitation and climate change. Whilst competition over the way we use soil resources is increasing between food production, conservation and other applications such as engineering. Over the past five years the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and British Geological Survey have partnered with a number of other organizations to make soils data accessible to the general public using digital information platforms. The NERC MySoil app has the unique ability to crowd-source soil data, whilst the UK Soil Observatory web data portal was discussed by the new United Nations Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils as the future style of tool for disseminating soil information.

This proposal seeks to build on this work, enhance our partnerships and develop the dialogue to drive the flow of knowledge within the agri-food, environmental, engineering, health and defence business sectors. One of this projects main objectives is to increase UK business competitiveness by enhancing the visibility and uptake of NERC data through our digital platforms, improving knowledge transfer, through targeting users with the appropriate information whilst also continuing to inform government policy.

The digital platforms were developed by consultation with major stakeholders, such as devolved Government, but now, with an army of more than 30,000 dedicated MySoil users who view and upload data, we need to know who these people are, and how we can better serve them. This knowledge will help to inform the development of future NERC products to stimulate existing and new business opportunities.

We seek to better position UK business to address the global challenges of soil degradation, for example, the Council on Foreign Relations reports that China's, 'economic rise, which has averaged around 10% annual GDP growth for the past decade, has come at the expense of its environment and public health.' China's food security is threatened by soil pollution impacting ~16% of land and ~20% of arable soil. This needs to be incorporated into national accounting so we understand the economic impacts of losses and uses. Moreover we seek to identify and understand opportunities where UK business can assist in providing information and technologies to address these issues, which are of major social and economic interest. We need to understand where the opportunities are, and how they can best be addressed with regard to soils. We believe there are new and emerging markets and applications for soils data in the engineering, health and defence sectors which we will identify and feedback into NERC.

All the information we gain, will allow us to accelerate knowledge transfer and better inform NERC and our stakeholders through updating and guiding new products and tools to stimulate social and economic wellbeing.


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Alewell C (2020) Global phosphorus shortage will be aggravated by soil erosion. in Nature communications

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Borrelli P (2020) Land use and climate change impacts on global soil erosion by water (2015-2070). in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Borrelli P (2018) Lateral carbon transfer from erosion in noncroplands matters. in Global change biology

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Panagos P (2019) FAO calls for actions to reduce global soil erosion in Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change

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Panagos Panos (2015) Tackling soil loss across Europe in NATURE

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Robinson DA (2015) Task force:soil matters

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Description Defra soil monitoring, letter to Nick Barter for Michael Gove (Env Sec) informing them about the readiness of the soil community to perform soil monitoring as part of the 25yr Env plan. Bridget Emmett went on to meet Michael Gove in Sept 2017 to discuss further.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Description NEC06484 UK: mySoil-sample, crowdsourcing digital soil data from industry and policy
Amount £100,938 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R009244/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 06/2019
Description NEC06520 NERC mySoil-sample: Business Planning
Amount £9,129 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R00904X/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
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Description NERC Soil Security innovation grants
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2018
Description British Standards Institution 
Organisation British Standards Institute (BSI Group)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The CEH soils area has signed up to support the efforts of BSI on producing standards for Soil science. Bridget Emmett and David Robinson met with Mike Smith and Steven Nortcliff to identify the role CEH could play in providing soil expertise to assessing standards. As an organisation we will now monitor and comment on any standards of relevance to CEH and GB at BSI and ISO levels. As BSI are considering standards for soil monitoring, it is in the interest of CEH and NERC to be represented in this area.
Collaborator Contribution BSI represents the UK in standards
Impact NA
Start Year 2018
Description European Union JRC Natural Capital Assessment 
Organisation European Commission
Department Joint Research Centre (JRC)
Country European Union (EU) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I arranged a summer placement at JRC in Italy in 2016. I joined the soils team working with: Panos Panagos and Arwyn Jones. Together we explored the similarities between the Countryside Survey in the UK and the LUCAS survey in Europe supported by Eurostat and which JRC provide the soil monitoring for. We agreed to explore common methods and looked at common ways of assessing soil natural capital. We developed a preliminary framework for reporting natural capital which we will try to publish which may inform policy both at EU and UK levels.
Collaborator Contribution JRC hosted me on my placement and have also agreed to partner regarding further development of a natural capital framework for soils and further development of digital app technologies for soil assessment.
Impact We submitted a proposal to JRC to fund a joint working soils program but it was unsuccessful.
Start Year 2015
Description ISRIC World Soil Information Centre 
Organisation The Global Health Network
Department International Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Consortium (ISARIC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I visited ISRIC, based at Wageningen in July 2017. We investigated using mySoil data in their global soil products but the bias in the data precludes it's current use. However, we talked about new developments with mySoil-sample. mySoil-sample is a new smart data collection system designed to collect point data from universities or commercial organisations. ISRIC are interested in partnering with CEH in the development to take it global and make it a standard for point data collection.
Collaborator Contribution We discussed potential contributions, Rik van Den Bosch proposed he could allocate a programmer for 3 months to help with development.
Impact NA
Start Year 2016
Description National Trust - Natural Resource Assessment 
Organisation National Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I organised a KE meeting at NERC in Swindon that brought together the National Trust Food and Farming, Water and Biodiversity programs with CEH. Lindsay Maskell from CEH has a working relationship with NT and has received funds from them. In this meeting we gave an overview of how CEH could help National Trust further with its natural resource assessment. It was agreed that Sue Cornwell and Rob Macklin from NT would act as contacts with Lindsay Maskell and David Robinson with regard to future collaborations. David Robinson initiated a NERC proposal for the development of a soil reporting app. National Trust is a partner on this bid which was successful to scope out an app and web infrastructure to capture farmer soil data. Other industrial partners include: NRM laboratories: Agricultural Industries Confederation: Policy partner: European Union Joint Research Centre:
Collaborator Contribution NT are providing guidance and contacts with regard to the scoping of the development of the crowdsourcing platform. All organisations are providing staff time to the tune of about £5k each.
Impact We have been successful in applying for a NERC Soil Security program small grant together.
Start Year 2016
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Organisation Office for National Statistics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
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Collaborator Contribution If successful, ONS will include soil natural capital assessment in the reporting of natural capital to government.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2016
Description United Nations Global Soil Partnership 
Organisation United Nations (UN)
Country United States 
Sector Public 
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Collaborator Contribution They provide an international forum for addressing key issues in the governance and sustainable use of soils.
Impact NA
Start Year 2018
Title iRecord Land and iRecord Soil 
Description We explored trademarking new names for our land and soil apps, but in the end decided to expand on the iRecord trademark adding the suffixes, Land and Soil to two new tools that are under development. 
IP Reference  
Protection Trade Mark
Year Protection Granted 2017
Licensed Yes
Impact NA